Southern Highlands doctor helps seeks answers to COVID-19 questions with a finger prick test

A greater understanding of COVID-19 could be a pin prick away.

A NSW Southern Highlands doctor is one of only three original known general practitioners in NSW using a finger prick test to identify people with antibodies to the virus.

Dr Helen Maloof is collecting data to assist with research related to the virus responsible for a world pandemic.

Based at the Eastbrooke Medical Centre in Bowral, Dr Maloof began collecting data in early April through the finger prick system approved by the Therapeutics Goods Administration.

The information gathered poses various questions including whether or not asymptomatic people have developed antibodies and have possibly passed on the virus without knowing, and that some people in close contact with an infected person may not contract the virus.

Dr Maloof said that while the key research into COVID-19 was currently focussed on vaccines and treatments she said the tests she did could assist with a better understanding of the virus behaviour, regarding its spread through the local population and who it affected over others.

And she has offered to do the tests for free for any emergency service workers such as paramedics and police, who had more risk of being exposed to the virus.

Dr Maloof said the test was as simple as a diabetes test.

"I draw blood from a finger prick. The blood is then mixed with buffer before being put on to a test strip," she said.

"The test strip specifically identifies whether or not the person has antibodies to COVID-19. The specificity to COVID-19 has been validated at many laboratories around the world.

"With any virus such as the common cold, chicken pox or measles you will develop antibodies, not immediately but from as little as from one day after, some after about seven days contact and some much later.

"Some people may never show signs of Covid, but if they have the antibodies then they have had exposure to the virus and may have been asymptomatic.

"Australian researchers have confirmed an asymptomatic rate of 15 per cent of COVID sufferers. That is one in six without symptoms.

The data collected by Dr Maloof is passed onto the South West Sydney Area Health Service Public Health Unit and could be used for ongoing research into the virus and how it impacts people differently.

The main outcome is to discover the population prevalence of the virus while providing individual patients a possible answer to their question "Have I had it?"

It could also help with a better understanding about the rate of potential for community transmission.

Dr Maloof said the Statens Serum Institute in Denmark had also identified the test as 99.6 per cent specific for detecting antibodies in anyone after 20+ days post exposure to the virus. The Doherty Institute in Australia have deemed them at 95.6 per cent specific and have recommended them as a population antibody test.

"Once we identify that a person has had COVID-19 we then have to try and work out how they got it."

The situation of a Southern Highlands couple currently living in Atlanta, Georgia, could well be the ideal subject for research involving the finger prick test.

Alex and Jessie Bitterlin share a single bedroom apartment. Jessie has had all the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and has been treated by medical staff as having had the virus.

However, she has returned two negative swab tests. She has been advised that this is not unusual as the tests have a 30 per cent false negative rate.

Her husband Alex, has had absolutely no signs of COVID-19. He has not been tested as medical staff won't test for the virus in the USA unless a person shows symptoms, even if that person has been in close proximity to someone suspected of having the virus.

The finger prick test could well be the only way the couple knows for certain whether either of the them have had the virus. The antibodies can be detected well after recovery.

Whatever the outcome is from such tests, there would still be plenty of questions to answer.

If they both have antibodies, then why did one have severe symptoms and the other have none?

If only one has antibodies, then the question at the tip of every researchers tongue will be "why did the other not contract the disease despite their close proximity to an infected person?"

Clearly there are still many more questions to this virus than there are answers, but data being collected by Dr Maloof is hopefully a step in the right direction toward a better understanding.

NB: Please note, this is not a test for acute virus. Please attend your local respiratory clinic for acute illness.